Yesterday I witnessed creative customer service. People were waiting around the block to get in to see a new musical. There were technical difficulties and we'd been standing for over an hour. Folks were getting restless.
Out of nowhere comes a woman with her arms full of programs, giving us something to read while we waited. She also gave us the status of the situation, which also helped quiet the crowd.
The incredible thing was that this women didn't work for the theater. She was just a natural at customer service.
Once inside, the technical problems continued. The audience waited multiple times while sets were fixed and production was delayed. I kept thinking, where's our customer service volunteer? If she were in change she'd be handing out free bottled water and have the orchestra playing to make the wait more enjoyable.
By the start of the second act, more delays. The manager came out and apologized. The show would not go on. She was sincerely sorry, and we could get a refund if we called the box office. As we left, downhearted, I thought, "You’re missing an opportunity here!" What if the cast members were there at the door to say "goodbye" or posing for pictures and inviting us to see the show later? Anything would be better than just sending us home.
One of the challenges of customer service
is that it's often most needed when we haven't had time to prepare. Staff must think on their feet because customer service is situational. There isn't always a script to turn to.
There are ways to create an environment that embraces spontaneous customer service. Here are a few.
• Role play. Create situations and have employees come up with quick responses. Get your staff comfortable with finding new ideas on the spot.
• Empower. Ensure you have empowered your staff to take action when necessary.
• Be aware. The only way to help customers is to be aware of the problem in the first place. Show employees how to spot issues before they become big problems.
• Standards and Guides. Give your employees structure for customer service. Micah Solomon, a contributing writer for Forbes says, “You also need customer service standards to support those employees, and, ultimately, your customers.”
Last night customer service could have gone a long way to helping valued patrons through a hard time. It should have been as important as repairing the technical difficulties.
Today, instead of talking about the problems with the set and how we were sent home, we could have been talking about the incredible customer service we received.
Diane Mettler has been a manager for nearly 20 years. She's also a freelance writer and editor—with hundreds of her articles published in a variety of magazines—and teaches writing at the University of Washington.